Aircraft captains are getting younger as the industry welcomes a raft of new recruits.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-300
Photo: Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock

As the US pilot shortage continues, Delta is allowing pilots with as low as 4.5 months of seniority to bid for the captain position onboard its Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 fleet. Let’s take a closer look.

Delta lowers widebody captain seniority

Delta Air Lines is opening up the captaincy for its widebody Boeing fleet to less senior pilots as it contends with the ongoing US pilot shortage. As first reported by Aero Crew News, pilots with as little as 4.5 months of seniority can now bid to become captains on a Delta Boeing 757 or Boeing 767, far lower than the industry standard.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-251 N539US (3)

Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying

As noted by One Mile At A Time, to become captain of a widebody at Delta would usually require around 20 years of seniority, involving several years as a First Officer (FO) and then captain of a smaller aircraft. Larger planes, like the 757 or 767, warrant a higher rate of pay, as will the captaincy role. For example, a junior FO on any plane at Delta will earn $92/hour, while a 757/767 captain will bring home far more at $269/hour.

Solving the shortage

Airlines in the US struggled to find enough pilots as demand for air travel returned over 2022, necessitating moves like this one at Delta. The lowering of required seniority doesn’t mean that Delta is desperate to promote whoever qualifies, but it will translate to considerably younger pilots at the helm. This is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across the industry, with many aircraft now captained by pilots in their 20s and 30s, something that in previous times would have been a rarity.

Some readers may be alarmed about the 4.5-month timeframe, but don’t fret – this doesn’t refer to how long the pilot has been flying overall, just the amount of time they have spent at Delta. In other words, a new hire who accumulates 4.5 months of seniority at Delta and bids for a 767 captaincy will still possess years of experience gained at other airlines, along with all the necessary qualifications and flight hours logged.

Pilot agreement on the horizon

As Simple Flying reported earlier this week, Delta pilots are set to vote on a new contract that will bring major pay increases of up to 30% over the next four years. Delta has been negotiating with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) since October 2019, with the union now recommending its members approve the terms.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-332(ER) N179DN-1

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data recently revealed that new pilot supply is stronger than demand following sizable investments from US carriers in pilot training schemes and improved pilot pay. There has probably never been a better time to become a pilot as competitive positions, like the captaincy of a widebody at a major US carrier, are increasingly within reach earlier in your career.

Do you agree with the lowering of seniority to captain a Boeing 757 or Boeing 767 at Delta Air Lines? What else can carriers do to cope with the pilot shortage? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Aero Crew News, One Mile At A Time

  • Delta A350

    Delta Air Lines

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    Boston Logan International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, New York JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

    Year Founded:


    Ed Bastian

    United States


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